Swimming bacteria power microscopic gears

Andrey Sokolov, Mario M. Apodaca, Bartosz A. Grzybowski, Igor S. Aranson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

428 Scopus citations


Whereas the laws of thermodynamics prohibit extraction of useful work from the Brownian motion of particles in equilibrium, these motions can be "rectified" under nonequilibrium conditions, for example, in the presence of asymmetric geometrical obstacles. Here, we describe a class of systems in which aerobic bacteria Bacillus subtilis moving randomly in a fluid film power submillimeter gears and primitive systems of gears decorated with asymmetric teeth. The directional rotation is observed only in the regime of collective bacterial swimming and the gears' angular velocities depend on and can be controlled by the amount of oxygen available to the bacteria. The ability to harness and control the power of collective motions appears an important requirement for further development of mechanical systems driven by microorganisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)969-974
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 19 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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